IN A 1992 issue of The Times Literary Supplement, the philosopher Jerry Fodor famously complained that: “Nobody has the slightest idea how anything material could be conscious. Nobody even knows what it would be like to have the slightest idea about how anything material could be conscious.” In 2011, despite two decades of explosive advances in brain research and cognitive science, Fodor’s assessment still rings true.

Why is that? Is it just that cognitive neuroscience still has a long way to go? Or have we been looking in the wrong places for clues? For hints to this mystery, brain researchers and philosophers of mind have focused on brain processes, neural computations and their correspondences with the physical world. But what if we should be focusing on what is not there instead?

So begins the first of two articles in the current edition of New Scientist exploring how our understanding of consciousness is evolving.  The other article explores why anaesthetics take away consciousness (surprisingly, we still know very little).  The articles can be accessed here: